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Value of summer camps (not those geared toward a specific college or university)

TwelfthmanTwelfthman 136 replies40 threads Junior Member
The MT summer camps seem like great experiences on the one hand, but also come with a high opportunity cost on the other. For instance, you could apply this money toward private lessons and other targeted training immediately as well as applications and auditions very soon.

For parents who have done these camps, and who needed to take this opportunity cost into account, what would you point to as the critical benefits and experiences the camp offered that made this investment worthwhile? Knowing the specific camp and what your S / D got out of it is what I'm looking for.

As the title indicates, I understand that camps specific to college(s) and university(ies) program(s) offer a unique preview to a prospective school ... and I get that. How about the other summer MT programs and what they provide over other options?

Thanks in advance for your input!
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Replies to: Value of summer camps (not those geared toward a specific college or university)

  • soozievtsoozievt 31434 replies373 threads! Senior Member
    edited December 2018
    PART 1:
    I'll chime in since my daughter who ended up going to a BFA in MT program and has a career now in the field, attended a theater camp for 8 summers, though my other daughter who did not end up pursuing MT, also went to a theater camp (a different one) for 4 summers. My daughters chose these programs at a young age and with no thought to college. The one who ended up pursuing MT for college and a career started at Stagedoor Manor at age 9 and my other daughter started at French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts at age 11. Throughout their youth and their high school years, they simply chose things they wanted to do, and not for the sake of college admissions. In terms of their summers, they pursued doing worthwhile things given their interests. Truly, that was the rationale behind picking the programs that they did. They did these summer activities for their own sake. That was true as well to their many extracurricular endeavors during the school year. They did have private lessons during the school year, be it for instruments or voice.

    I'll speak mostly to Stagedoor Manor where my MT kid went for six weeks every summer for 8 summers, even though French Woods is excellent as well. I can readily say that the significance of those summers at theater camp in my MT daughter's life were tremendous and reverberate to this day. She attended and returned each summer because she loved it. That was a good enough reason to me. We didn't weigh benefits or what it might do to help eventually for college. But looking back on it all, it did do that and more, and many of these things are not unique to Stagedoor Manor of course, but can be had there.

    For starters, at Stagedoor Manor, your child is among talented kids from all over the US and abroad. For my daughter, growing up in rural Vermont where she stood out for her talent in our region, it ended up being informative to see how she fared in a much more concentrated talent pool. She did well there and in retrospect, that was a bit of a benchmark when wondering if she'd be competitive for BFA in MT programs among that type of talent pool.

    Like many summer programs, SDM is total immersion, which my kid loved. Not only is it immersion in her field of passion, but it was with others who felt the same. While not at a college, it is that same sort of immersion all day and night. SDM currently takes kids ages 10-18. That's another thing, you can return summer after summer, which is not quite the same thing at a pre-college program. A session at SDM is 3 weeks long and there are three 3-week sessions offered per summer,. Some kids go 3 weeks and some attend two sessions for 6 weeks, but each 3 week session is one complete experience. Campers take 8 classes for the session and can pick these from an array of offerings in all aspects of theater, including many dance disciplines and levels for those disciplines (they do dance placement for those interested in these classes).

    Besides the classes, each 3 week session puts on approximately 14 musicals and plays which are full scale productions. Everyone is cast in something and there are auditions on the first day. Casts tend not to be over about 25 kids maximum. Professional staff teach the classes, and are directors, music directors, and choreographers of the productions. The first summer we attended performance weekend, we were blown away by the level fo the productions and the talent. The productions were at a very high level of professionalism (I would say more advanced than our high school productions overall). Some shows are geared toward the younger campers, some toward the middle school age, and some the older kids, but there are not strict age ranges per show. Another thing is that they don't stick to just family friendly shows that a public school might lean toward. For example, they've done Follies, RENT, Hair, Sweeney Todd, Nine, Chicago, Cabaret, etc. While not every camper is top tier talented, many are, including those often in lead roles. I feel that my daughter's experience just working on the shows at Stagedoor gave her a sense of professionalism in the preparation of the show and everything about it. They only have 2 1/2 weeks to put the shows up. The stage experience in high level shows and the chance to depict various roles also benefitted her, and that doesn't include the classes. One thing for my D with the classes is that she had no access to acting classes back home and so she had some there. But it also was fun to take dance with different instructors than back home.

    TO BE CONTINUED....
    edited December 2018
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  • soozievtsoozievt 31434 replies373 threads! Senior Member
    edited December 2018
    PART 2: (continued from above)

    Each summer there are guest artists who visit and master classes, etc. I still recall my D meeting Jeanine Tesori when she was a kid at camp and now my D knows her personally and is mentored by her.

    Besides the classes and productions that everyone can participate in, there are two select groups by audition. One is a MT cabaret troupe called Our Time Cabaret and one is a select acting troupe called Player's Ensemble. My D was in Our Time Cabaret for 16 sessions over her 8 years and she will tell you that was the highlight of her summers at SDM. This group was super talented and put on a fast paced musical theater review that they rehearsed in 2 weeks. They used to take this MT cabaret to perform at resort hotel nightclubs in the area, which my D loved. They eventually stopped doing the off-campus performances, but do perform for the entire camp and for the parents. It's hard to describe but this troupe was the pinnacle for my daughter. Truly, she ended up writing various college application essays in the context of SDM and OTC. Also, looking back on being in OTC, I feel she learned how a musical review is conceptualized and put together. In high school, she ended up creating two original student-led musical revues, which had never been done at our HS, and I know she learned so much of how this is done from her summers at Stagedoor. Also, while not offered back when my kid attended SDM, they also now have something called Dramafest where campers can submit their original short plays, and some get chosen to then be student directed and performed in additional to the regular productions.

    While this may not be important to others, a huge outcome of attending SDM for my kid has also been the bonds she formed there over the years. She had a strong friendship group from the summers at SDM that differed from her home community friendship group. These friendships continued with the BFA audition process, the college years and now as a professional. Some of my daughter's closest friends today at age 30 go back to theater camp. In fact, at my D's last solo concert, she had guest artists perform on some songs and it was chilling for me to see her perform a song with two very close friends who go back to meeting as children at theater camp.

    Of my D's friends at Stagedoor, a majority of them went onto BFA in MT and BFA in Acting programs and a few chose BA programs such as Yale, Northwestern, Brown, etc. In college, there were many friends from her theater camp at her college. When I look at where these theater camp friends are now, it really is quite something. Those kids are now on Broadway (some have had starring roles), Off Broadway, National Tours, starring in movies, on well known TV shows, and are directors, choreographers, and musical directors, concert artists, and writers/composers of original musicals. Even when I think back to the very first show I saw at Stagedoor and I've likely seen at least 75 shows there, but that first one when my D was just 9 and the cast was mostly ages 9-13, and recall being shocked by the talent, and I remember who was in that show, and so many of that one cast alone have gone onto great success at the highest levels.

    Theater camp is not better or worse than attending a pre-college MT Program. It is just different. I think the talent and immersion is similar but the programs differ. We never considered a pre-college program because my D loved where she was going and counted the days to returning each summer. As I started this long post, we picked summer experiences purely based on what the kids wanted to do. That said, the benefits and significance of my D's 8 summers at Stagedoor Manor, in hindsight, have been huge in her personal growth but also in her preparation for a career in music and theater.
    edited December 2018
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  • El-CeeEl-Cee 177 replies10 threads Junior Member
    Soozie captures the sentiment that I also feel about my daughter's time at camp; although hers was at French Woods. The experience was absolutely worth it for her, and our only regret is not sending her sooner. She attended for only 3 summers (I think it was 7th, 8th & 9th grade) and then went on to do Pace in 10th and Penn State in 11th, along with interning at BAA (where she had gone prior to 7th grade and still had a strong relationship with the head of the program). The level of talent and quality of productions was high, but not to the extent of Stage Door from what I understand, but then there was more freedom and opportunity to do things outside of theater and dance, which my daughter appreciated. (She excelled in Fire Dancing and to this day that is her conversation piece that auditors see on her resume and ask about!) They have an advanced circus arts program, a huge skate park, waterskiing, obstacle climbing course complete with zip lining, horseback riding, many sports, tons of arts and crafts, etc.~ all the classic camp activities and then some. Since my daughter's entire life revolved around theater at home, she appreciated the opportunity to take a break for a bit over the summer whilst still doing a few shows too. Frenchwoods also has an elite Cabaret Troupe that travels off-site and performs for locals, including other camps! That was definitely a highlight of our time at FW b/c the talent was next-level with those kids. But overall, It's downright amazing what these camps manage to pull off in less than 3 weeks! Anyway, I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone with young kids to start as early as your kids are ready for sleep-away - b/c this will give them an inside edge as they come up through the camp ranks. Good luck to the OP with your child's decision :)
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  • soozievtsoozievt 31434 replies373 threads! Senior Member
    @Ei-Cee, as I wrote, my other D attended French Woods! She went for four summers from age 11 to age 14, for six weeks each summer, and also loved it. You could insert Stagedoor Manor right into French Woods, and simply FWF offers many additional things that SDM doesn't, and that is what appealed to my other D. She was in musicals and in dance at FWF, but was able to compete on the tennis team, take tennis lessons, and also waterskiing (and did a little of circus arts). My other D was happy putting all her eggs in the musical theater basket at Stagedoor.
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  • stagedoormamastagedoormama 832 replies9 threads Member
    Completely agree with everything @soozievt stated above! Our D went to Stagedoor for 6 years (starting at age 13) and was in Our Time Cabaret every year. Being at SDM and part of OTC shaped who she is today. She also did not choose to attend SDM with any thoughts of college. She went because she thought it would be a lot of fun, but it turned out to be a real life changing experience for her. :)
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  • exitstageleftexitstageleft 135 replies6 threads Junior Member
    I specifically wanted my D to attend UArts summer program to garner some street smarts, for lack of a better expression.

    My D was a suburban-always driven somewhere-only shopped at a mall-school bus riding- lives in a small development kind of girl. We had no idea what type of college she would attend so I wanted her to get some experience with urban, big city living. I remember thinking “This child doesn’t even have any experience with walking across a multi-lane intersection with a stop light” on her own.

    The fact that it was a theatre program was a bonus! They got free time for an hour or so each evening and they definitely took advantage of being in such a magical area like downtown Philly during the summer. I also knew that she would begin to make friends from all over, which I felt was equally helpful in her becoming a more mature young woman.

    I didn’t want to send her off to college so “green” and I feel we accomplished that with the summer program. And she loved it because it was theatre so win/win!
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  • CaMom13CaMom13 1973 replies13 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2018
    I'll weigh in from a perspective you didn't ask for because I think it's probably of some interest. ;)

    My D only did local/school theatre throughout high school and never did a pre-college or summer PA program of any kind. I regret it, not because of the lost training opportunities but because without her having had a full-on MT experience we didn't actually know for sure that she'd enjoy an MT program in college. We went through the BFA application process with a lot of unanswered concerns: What if she doesn't like the intensity? What if she hates being around musical theatre people all the time? - which in turn forced us to be very careful about planning for her to have an "out" in case she decided a year or two into her college experience that the BFA wasn't for her. She had wonderful, educational summer experiences doing the things she did that were *not* summer camp but if I were to do it over I would have had her at least try for a pre-college summer MT intensive between sophomore and junior years. I think it would have given us some peace of mind... and also possibly given us a small leg up in the application process as last year we knew practically no one applying to performing arts college programs and an MT-friend-network would have been a boon during that very difficult and confusing time.
    edited December 2018
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  • soozievtsoozievt 31434 replies373 threads! Senior Member
    My D was a suburban-always driven somewhere-only shopped at a mall-school bus riding- lives in a small development kind of girl. We had no idea what type of college she would attend so I wanted her to get some experience with urban, big city living. I remember thinking “This child doesn’t even have any experience with walking across a multi-lane intersection with a stop light” on her own.

    @exitstageleft I smiled reading this. My D went off to college in the Big Apple at age 16 and grew up in a rural mountain town, population 1700. We lived on a dirt road. My D did not walk anywhere. Stop light? Our town had NO stop lights. My D's dorm at NYU had a population almost as big as our town, LOL. I did tell her, ya know, in NYC, they don't stop for people in a crosswalk like they do in Vermont! And my kid hadn't used public transportation as there was none in our area. Still, they adjust. My kid had NO problem being in NYC. She wanted it. She loved it. Sometimes, you just learn by doing. The setting could not have been more opposite to where my daughter had grown up.
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  • artskidsartskids 1528 replies22 threads Senior Member
    Two of my older three kids attended Stagedoor. My S did 4 summers and absolutely loved it; he bonded with other students and did make some lasting friendships. He was also in OTC his summers and wow - loved that! He ended up in the audition cycle and college with a number of his camp friends and has followed them as they have branched out into their careers. One of the kids who graduated a few years ahead of my S works as a real estate broker (his NY "survival job") and helped him find his apartment. He just participated with another one in a new works reading in NY.

    D2, on the other hand, attended only one summer and it was miserable for her. She attended summer of her freshman year and, perhaps because there were a number of girls who were her age and there for repeat summers, she felt ostracized. She got a lead and ended up in OTC and frankly, that made it worse for her. Not everyone is kind or celebrates others' success in a highly-competitive environment. S said he didn't experience what she did directly but attributes most of that to being a guy and not part of what he called "all the girl drama"!

    The training and contacts (and honestly, the talent level and shows) at SDM are first rate but it is with great hesitation we have agreed to allow D3 to attend this summer. I do continue to share with her information about other training programs so it is possible she will decide not to go. I am a firm believer, and have been since S started to say he might want to participate in the arts as a career, that kids benefit greatly from throwing themselves into a larger talent pool. They grow more quickly and learn to spot their own weaknesses so I do want something for her beyond our local scene. Just not sure SDM is the right choice for her.
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